Friday, September 24, 2010

Gaming Novellas

In case you don't follow my other blog, I'm currently between jobs at the moment. As a result though, I've been able to finally start weeding through my backlog of videogames, or my "pile of shame" as I affectionately call it. These games run the gamut from DS to Playstation 2, from RPG to platformer, and unfortunately, there are a lot of them.

Playing all these games however is showing me that the medium is really at its finest in a shorter form.

When I was still a student in high school and community college (i.e. when I had lots of free time), I devoured huge RPGs like Final Fantasy X, Tales of Symphonia, and Kingdom Hearts like they were M&Ms. Spending $50 on a game that was going to keep me entertained for 40+ hours was a deal. But although you're receiving a lot of entertainment for your money, longer games carry certain disadvantages that actually hurt their long-term value.

The biggest issue is replayability. I'm sure all of us have a few games that we rank among our all-time favorites, much like we do with movies and books. And because they're so treasured, I sometimes like to experience them over again and remember why I love them. With a movie, it takes a few hours; with a movie, it might take a few days. Videogames though can take anywhere from an afternoon or a few days to weeks or even months to finish, depending on how long they are. For a long game like Tales of Symphonia - which took me over 80 hours to finish - this just isn't conducive to a second or third play though. Although I've attempted to restart this game multiple times, I never get more than a few hours in.

Ocarina of Time is probably one of the few longer games
I've replayed multiple times

It's not just the length, however, that keeps me from replaying these longer titles; it's the pacing. An epic RPG like Tales of Symphonia or Kingdom Hearts often takes hours just to get out of the tutorial or introductory phase of the plot. By the time the game as a whole gets really good, ten hours might have been spent. In that same amount of time, I could be halfway through an RPG like Chrono Trigger or Dragon Quest V, and I could have played Portal, Mechinarium, or Shadow of the Colossus from start to finish. It's not just that these games are shorter in length, they have better pacing: they get the story and gameplay moving sooner and quicker. This is true in movies and books as well: for years I simply skipped the first chapter of Harry Potter because it was so slow. Chapter two is when the story takes off.

 The storyline is part of the thread that pulls us  into and through the game. Without occasional progress in the story, we don't feel like our actions are making any progress in the game. And the best games for this, I'm finding, are shorter in length. The Mario & Luigi RPGs, for example, have excellent pacing and tend to only be 10-20 hours in length. Their storylines moves along at a nice clip, and even visually I feel like I'm making progress. Bowser's Inside Story, despite being only about 18 hours long, suffers from poor pacing at the end. The final dungeon felt like it was a quarter of the overall game; both narratively and visually, my feeling of progress slowed down almost to a halt, and I had to stop playing several times purely because of fatigue. The first game in the series, Superstar Saga, only took me about 12 hours to complete, and didn't leave me with any such fatigue.

Portal is the perfect "pleasure game." It takes 2-3 hours to finish,
and it's always a satisfying experience.

I still have a love for longer games - Dragon Quest IX did, after all, consume two months and 100 hours of my life this summer - but I love when I can whimsically decide to play a game like Portal and finish it within a few hours or days. That's what I think of as "pleasure gaming."

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this post! I usually feel disappointed if I buy a video game and it takes me "only" 10 hours to finish. I'm used to longer RPGs (Zelda, Final Fantasy) and I don't feel like I get my money's worth out of the shorter ones. I rarely replay video games (unlike rereading books or rewatching movies), which probably contributes. That being said, however, I do find if the game takes more than 70 hours to complete (and I'm a slow gamer), I will get distracted and stop playing when I'm about 80-90% done. I can't tell you how many times I've restarted FF3 (US), only to stop at exactly the same point every time. My attention span is only so long!